Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Behold the Sacred Objects of Our Youth

On my way to bed tonight, I walked past this black bowl. Since it sits on the corner of our piano, walking past it is something I do approximately 40 times a day. Today, though, when I looked inside the bowl, I had the most unexpected flashback to the day 20 or so years ago, when a friend and I wended our way through the back alleys of  Bangkok in search of the "monk bowl" district.

I don't know why we'd decided so resolutely that we needed to find the place where these alms bowls were being made or how we managed to purchase them without a phrase of passable Thai between us. I do remember that it wasn't easy to locate the street so far off the beaten path and that it took us hours of frustrated wandering to find what we were looking for. What sticks with me most, though, is the intricate hammering of the artisans, crouched over low tables in open-air store fronts, sealing the seams of the bowls with copper and creating impossibly smooth surfaces made black and shiny by the flames of the fire.

That trip to Thailand, far outside of my comfort zone so many years ago, is largely lost to my memory now--except for this smooth, black begging bowl sitting on the corner of our piano.

Bowl on Tapa Cloth
To be honest, what strikes me now about this bowl--and the Tapa Cloth from Fiji that it sits on, for that matter--is that there is no going back to that moment in my youth when a pilgrimage for a handmade alms bowl seemed so very important. Life just keeps moving forward, even if in not-always-perfect fits and starts. I am sure that my 20-something year old self could have never, not in a million years, imagined that the handmade alms bowl she spent hours searching for in the tangled streets of the seemingly forgotten neighborhoods of Bangkok would become the repository for the mismatched pieces of forgotten kids' toys. The bowl, it turns out, makes a pretty decent junk drawer.

"Junk bowl"
What does it mean when the sacred object of one's youth becomes a catch-all for ribbons and pens and sundry knickknacks? I don't know, really, but, somehow, this bowl full of toys strikes me as the perfect metaphor for what it's like to become a parent.

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